Cover of Bug Off! by Jane Yolen and Jason Stemple

Bug Off

photographs by Jason Stemple
Boyds Mills/Wordsong
ISBN 978-1-59078-862-2

Bug Off, our latest book of nature poems, is all about insects, bugs, creepy crawlies. And like the other books I have done with Jason (my youngest son, an award-winning photographer), it begins with his photographs. I noticed he already had a lot of pictures of bugs–a praying mantis, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders–and that’s how the book started to become a reality. I wrote poems for and about the critters he already had, and then wrote the nonfictional pieces for them as well. After that, we discussed what other bugs he might reasonably try to get–tick, lovebug, ladybug, fly, grasshopper, and the like. I wrote a proposal to go with the poems and photos, and we emailed the package to our editor, Joan Hyman.

She promptly turned it down.

She felt the poems were all over the place, and needed culling, rethinking, revising and re-visioning. Back to the drawing board!

We turned our attention to a second book which she had just bought–Birds of a Feather, and that was what we worked on. But as soon as that book was completed, and with Joan for editing, I went back to the bug book. I fiddled, I pushed myself, Jason managed a bunch more brilliant photos. And this time, she bought the book.

But before we could really get it all together, Joan was moved to a different department at the publishing company which was undergoing a massive restructuring, and we had a new editor, Rebecca Davis, someone I’d worked with successfully at a different company. In some ways it was back to square one. Working on the book with the two editors added a year to the work. But it was a good year. We also got great feedback from the science editor Andy Boyles that saved us from some missteps and mistakes, and one bad mistaken identification. Altogether a great team.


  • Included in the Books of Note 2013 list for the TriState Young Adult Book Review Committee
  • On the Chicago Public Library Year’s Best list.
  • Included in the Kansas NEA (National Education Association) Reading Circle Catalog
  • On the “Delaware Diamonds” state reading award master list for 2013-2014 for grades K-2

Around the web:

What reviewers have said:

  • “Jane Yolen is the rock star you should be worshipping.”—Wacky Mommy Blog
  • “What comes out in the summer? Why bugs, of course! If you love bugs, you’ll love this book full of poems and stunning bug photography. Each bug photograph is paired with an entertaining poem and interesting information—bringing the bug world up close and personal.”—Red River Family Magazine
  • “Stemple’s magnified photographs offer bold, intriguing views…As in their many previous volumes, Yolen and Stemple add a small blurb of nonfiction, varied in length and scope, to the paired poem and photograph in each double-page entry. Playful in word use, the poems employ a pleasing array of rhyme schemes in well-shaped verses and an occasional limerick.”—School Library Journal
  • “In Bug Off! readers meet thirteen bugs in playful, humorous poems and startling, intimate photographs. This book of poems is perfect way to learn more about the bugs around us. Kids will love the pictures and fun poems inside. Beautifully photographed and written book.”—SocialCafe Magazine
  • “The team behind A Mirror to Nature and Wild Wings offers another striking pairing of poems and photographs about the natural world, in this case the mysterious lives of insects. Each poem (and photograph) is a careful observation of its subject, whether a graceful butterfly (“A tutu-clad dancer,/ I move with lightness”) or a tick (“The tick is mostly mouth,/ and if he lands on you/ he’ll try to suck your blood,/ ’cause that’s what all ticks do”). Each spread also includes a short prose passage with additional information and observations. Regarding a swarm of insects, Yolen writes, “Jason and I don’t actually know which bugs are swarming or why…. Sometimes nature is like that.”–Publisher’s Weekly
  • “…these lovely lines, for instance: ‘A flittering cloud, / a crowd / of creeps. / And then, as if / an unseen broom / sweeps / skimmingly / across the sky, / the swarm is gone / in a blink / of an eye.’ Stemple’s photographs are the true stars of this book. His macro views show such details as the rainbow colorations on a fly’s wings, the serrations on a grasshopper’s rear legs and the many units that make up the lovebug’s compound eyes.”—Kirkus
  • “Each page in this book is sure to delight little ones . I love the vivid photographs of insects on each page, accompanied by an original poem and some facts about the bugs. There is a great combination of factual and creative content in this book. We especially liked “An Army of Ants” and “Oh, Fly.” Your kids will get a kick out of this informative collection!”—Macaroni Kid
  • “In her note to readers, Jane Yolen confesses she has not been a lover of insects, but in studying the photographs of Jason Stemple she has found their beauty and mystery. She also knows the value of choosing the perfect word, quoting Mark Twain “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter— it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Her poems aptly demonstrate how well she does this. In the opening, “Oh, Fly”, Yolen expresses her relief it didn’t land on her food, notes that it s a “lovely fly,” but urges it “not to go/ and multiply.” In addition to the stunning photo of a fly on a leaf, Yolen offers information about Diptera, the order to which flies belong.. . . scientific mini-lessons accompany each poem. . . . By the time (students) have read all twelve poems, they, too, may become converts to the beauty of the insect world.”–School Librarian’s Workshop